90 Tips and tricks to enhance the quality of your Ecommerce website

General Ecommerce :

  • Ultimately, websites are there to provide your customers with a better service.  Don’t build your website with anyone else in mind.
  • Consider what you want each page of your website to achieve and go about designing it to fulfil these goals.
  • Tell your customers about your company on your ‘about us’ page, consider who your customers are and portray an image that will appeal to your target market.
  • Don’t rely exclusively on internet technology. Build alternative sales channels: direct mail, sales brochures etc.  Build a customer base and look after them.
  • Give your customers every means to contact you: phone, email, physical address, live chat, Aim, etc. And respond to all customer contact in a professional and timely manner.

Ecommerce software usability

  • Avoid slow loading; time consuming graphics or animations on your home page.  No one wants to sit and watch some sycophantic, webmasters ego massage before they get to your core data on your website
  • Keep your home page up-to-date with your top-selling and newly launched products.
  • Every product on your website should be reachable within 3-clicks of your homepage.
  • Recommend additional related products for items added to the shopping cart. Amazon do this very well, they recommend related products on the product page, even before the customer reaches the shopping cart.
  • Never add items without the shoppers consent, this will ultimately cause high levels of shopping cart abandonment
  • Use buy buttons whenever and wherever a product is displayed, make it as easy as possible for customers to add products to the shopping cart.
  • Display your product prices wherever buy buttons are displayed.
  • Let your customers know exactly how much your products cost.
  • Link to other sites that carry relevant information and products to your own
  • Avoid having excessive outgoing links. There are varying opinions on maximum quantities; I try to limit outgoing links to a maximum of 15 on any given page.
  • Optimise your images:
    Speed – but try to get the balance right between quality and speed.
    Use original images – where possible take your own photographs
    Name your images – use your keyword in your image naming conventions
    Alt tagging – complete image alt tags, this is another opportunity to push your keyword density
  • Create a sitemap for your site.  This has two direct advantages: First, a sitemap created in the right format can be uploaded to Google which will increase the chances of each page being indexed.  Second, it will make sure that no pages on your site are orphaned.
  • Use friendly URLs this has two main advantages: Firstly, they are easier for your visitor to remember.  Secondly, they are good for SEO, yet again another chance to plug your all important keywords.  Mod_rewrite will continue to make this possible if your using dynamic PHP content.
  • Run a blog along side your site and regularly write about the products you sell.  Content is king create other industry related articles and you may be amazed at the traffic this generates.
  • Use compelling call to actions – buy now, while stocks last, limited offer, etc.
  • Surprise your regular customers with gifts and discounts.
  • Make sure your site has search facilities that make products and content as easy to find as possible.
  • Use breadcrumb navigation, this will help your customers understand exactly where they are on your site.  It also helps your customers find similar or related products.
  • Shopping carts should be editable. Customers need to be able to remove products and change product line quantities easily.
  • Never add exorbitant costs during the checkout stage.  Avoid overly high postal costs or surcharges.  For Business to Customer (B2C) based sites, add the sales tax / VAT to the advertised product prices so customers don’t get a nasty shock when they get to your checkout. Hidden costs lead to shopping cart abandonment.
  • Never add anything to the shopping cart the customer hasn’t expressly requested.  This will alienate potential customers, which will lead to cart abandonment.
  • Avoid lengthy or unnecessary registrations prior to checkout.
  • The checkout process should be quick and simple and should only collect absolutely essential information.
  • Give your customers a sense of confidence by displaying appropriate security and ‘site-safe’ logos.
  • Provide as many payment options as possible. Cheque, credit card, Paypal etc.  The more payment options you allow, the more customers you will attract.
  • Consider offering free shipping when a certain order total is met. This may increase your average order totals.
  • Use website analytics and statistics to help you understand visitor activity and behavior.  Google analytics is free and is really rather good!
  • Give your customers as much information as possible: include delivery methods with expected durations. Also make your privacy policy and return policy easily accessible.

Design technology and development:

  • Adhere to web standards in the construction of your HTML pages.
  • Avoid the use of excessive and/or poorly optimised graphics and keep the amount of flash and slow loading media to an absolute minimum.
  • Where video media is embedding into a page don’t force it play automatically. Allow the visitor the choice if they wish to view the video file or not.
  • Try to avoid links through graphics as they optimise for search engines far less effectively than text links.
  • Where possible use text links and anchor the link with keywords appropriate to your website.
  • Avoid slow loading web pages and pay special attention to landing pages and your homepage.  Optimise these pages for speed; slow loading pages create high levels of visitor bounces.
  • Your 404 page is presented to visitors when they try to reach a page that does not exist. Try to be creative with this page, you could add a site search or navigation menu to help the visitor find what they were originally looking for or you could link it back to your home page / another section of your site.

Retail Ecommerce SEO:

  • Study your competitors SEO campaigns, SEO Quake which is a free browser plugin, will give you analysis of the sites you visit.  Study your competitor’s back-links, emulate them and improve on them.  Take your top 20 search engine competitors for desired keywords and target 30% of each competitor’s back-links.  You will quickly start to see your pages rise to the top of the indexes.  (Ignore authority site listings in your niche… firstly, they are not a threat and secondly, you will never compete with the quantity and quality of back-links that these sites attract)
  • Take the time to build a strong list of target keywords.  If you’re struggling for suggestions again look at competitors sites.  Look at their Alt tags, page titles and keyword densities.  This practise will quickly give you the keywords your competitors are targeting and will help you build a comprehensive keyword list.  For deeper analysis Goolge has a keyword suggestion tool built into their adsense programme and deeper analysis still you could look at Wordtracker.  Monthly subscription to this site will give you probably the best keyword tool on the market.
  • Limit the amount of keywords you target on any single page to 4 or less.  Targetting too many keywords on a single page dilutes the page from an SEO perspective.
  • Long-tail keywords are expressions that consist of 4 or more words.  You don’t generally have to target these expressions; you will pick them up naturally from a mixture of words the search engines find within your content.  However, every now and then you will find a ‘little diamond’, one that produces a good few clicks.  When you do, write a bit of content to target this expression.
  • Never copy word for word the manufacturer’s product description. Rewrite the description in your own words.  This may seem a bit of a waste of time but the search engines filter out duplicate content.  If you copy the manufacturers description, chances are your product page will not be indexed and will fail to show in the SERP’s
  • Use your keywords liberally in your page titles, meta tags and headings. However, don’t spam, avoid using so many keywords your text is no longer readable and never try to be clever by making the keywords the same colour as the background (an old practise that allowed webmasters to stuff their pages with keywords without ruining the visitors experience of the page.
  • Again use keywords in your product descriptions liberally.  Check your keyword densities (SEO quake will do this for you) keyword densities of over 5 could be considered spamming.
  • Try to obtain quality back-links but do so steadily, sudden fluctuations in back-links could alert search engines to back-link spamming.  Various methods for obtaining quality back-links are discussed on several other posts on this site.
  • Use links on your site to other pages on your site and when you do anchor the link with keywords relevant to the target page. For example this is an example of anchor text. Clever and relevant use of interior linking is very good for your SEO campaign.
  • Ask for reviews from your customers, the ever changing and unique content that this will produce is very good for SEO.
  • Use book-marking and social networking tags on your product pages. These allow your customers to bookmark your products for future reference or share your products and services with their community and/or friends.

Email marketing:

  • Create an opt-in email list and encourage your customers to join
  • Ask customers to sign-up for a newsletter during or just after the sales process and send regular product information to the people that join.  However, don’t flood your customers mailboxes with emails every five minutes.
  • Provide the ability to opt-out every time you send your customer an email or newsletter
  • Make sure you call your customers to action in the emails – buy-it-now, limited offer, limited stock, hurry while stocks last, buy now because when they are gone there gone – you get the message!
  • Make your slaes offer clear and concise and make sure it’s visible before the bottom of the screen when the mail is first opened.
    Pay per click (PPC) marketing tips:
  • Begin with your best selling products and build your campaign from there.
  • Use keyword analysis products to build a comprehensive keyword list
  • Start with less expensive long-tail keywords, your looking for very specific targeted expressions that will hopefully give you very good conversion rates.
  • Budget your campaign spending and analyse your return on investment on controlled bursts of traffic.  Google analytics allows you to set goal conversions which means you can analyse which keywords are giving you the best return on investment (ROI)
  • Add negative keywords to campaigns, these terms are often less expensive and may convert just as well.
  • Google have a feature built into their software that means if you improve your advertising quality score it reduces your average click cost.  So improving your ‘click to impression rate’ actually reduces the amount you pay.
  • Try to use your keywords in your ad copy.
  • Use call to actions in the ad copy.
  • Don’t get involved in bidding wars, getting the top position is not necessarily that important.  There is a school of thought; I’m told that suggests that positions 4 to 7 provide the best return on investment.
  • Deep-link your campaigns, don’t just throw all your traffic at your homepage.  Make sure your customers are taken to a product page relevant to the reason they originally clicked your advert.
  • Look out for price drops, when setting your PPC amounts you will regularly notice keywords with the following characteristics:
    Position 1 = 0.65
    Position 2 = 0.64
    Position 3 = 0.63
    Position 4 = 0.22
    You will notice there is a big price drop between Position 3 and Position 4.  This Means that if you bid $0.23 your ad will go in at position 4 and you will pay less than half than you would to obtain position 3.  This represents great value for money!
  • I often turn the ‘Content Network’ off, this means you won’t pick up traffic from 3rd party websites and your traffic will only come directly from the Google site.  However, in my opinion, content clicks from 3rd party sites tend to be more impulsive and are often not made by people actively looking for your product / Service.
  • Create various versions of your ad copy and test them for performance.
  • Create various versions of your landing pages and test them for performance
  • Experiment with your keywords, ditch low performing keywords and push the high performing ones.

Comparison shopping engine marketing:

  • Comparison engines only work for branded and or mainstream products people use them to find the cheapest price for a specific brand / model product.  If you’re selling unbranded products you could be wasting your time listing on comparison sites.
  • Comparison site aren’t too dissimilar to using a PPC network but they tend to be very targeted, clicks from comparison sites generally yield very good conversion rates.
  • Test the market with your best selling products.
  • Learn how to prepare a data feeds or find someone who can.  Comparison sites normally accept a text file, CSV file, Excel file or some form data file prepared in the form of a list of products formatted in a particular way.
  • Obviously populate all required and recommend fields but also populate as many optional fields as possible.  The more data you provide the more comprehensive your listings will be.
  • Don’t forget to use the exact Manufacturers Part Number MPN or SKU. This will ensure your listings are correctly displayed when searches for specific products are entered.
  • Update your data feeds regularly, weekly or monthly.  In some cases even daily updates are required if your business is fast moving and competitors keep manipulating their prices.
  • Google base is free and entries are displayed directly above the start of the natural listings in a very prominent location.  If you list your product nowhere else, take the time to list on Google Base.
  • Amazon market place also offers free listing but will charge you a percentage of the sales total (percentage based on what category your products fall into).  It’s worth mentioning that there are no credit card processing costs with Amazon sales, they take all the money and forward it straight to your bank account once a month (less their percentage of course)
  • Remove out of stock products as soon as possible.
  • Deep-link your listings so your potential customers are taken directly to the relevant product page.
  • Analyse all statistics and remove any poor performing products.
  • Analyse your comparison site competition, if other merchants are undercutting you or have promotional offers that undermine your listings, you may want to try and compete.

Customer support & service:

  • Give your customers an exceptional service.
  • Give your customer as many ways to contact you as possible and respond to all customers contact in a professional timely manner.
  • Use a Freephone or toll free number. It’s well reported that offering free calls can increase sales contact by up to 30%.
  • Make sure the person who takes the sale call has been properly trained and knows the products inside out and backwards.
  • Display your contact information on all the pages of your websites
  • Some customers will rub you up the wrong way.  Remain courteous and polite however ignorant the customer may be.  If it makes you feel better swear about them after you put the phone down.

Starting an Internet Business

Have you ever fancied yourself as an internet entrepreneur.  There is a general misconception that building an internet business is a simple case of designing a website and waiting for the money to roll in. The honest fact is:

Building a website is easy, building a successful internet business is far more challenging!

You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s relatively straightforward to build an internet business, there are plenty of high profile success stories involving internet related businesses and there are plenty of people out there who make considerable online incomes.  Consumer internet spending has risen to over $45bn, this figure has risen year on year since the internet was founded and everything suggests that online spending will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

The internet is changing the way we live and as I have mentioned in previous posts it levels the playing field somewhat, giving small businesses the opportunity to compete and win business from major corporations. The question is just how simple is it to get a new internet business off the ground?

Business planning
The first thing any prospective entrepreneur should do is write a business plan. Ideally your business plan will be a concise, clearly written document outlining your business objectives: 

Consider your product, how much is your product going to cost, how much do you intend to sell it for, calculate your profit margin.  Estimate your indirect expenses packing and delivery cost, advertising and marketing, light heat and power internet hosting, telephone etc. etc. etc. Will you still make a profit after all these costs are factored in?

Consider your competition and how can you create a competitive edge. How can compete with them in the same market place and how you can be better, cheaper, or provide a value added service that will encourage potential customers to spend their hard earned money with you.

Consider your customers, who are they, where do they live, what age groups do they belong to, what social groups are they likely to be involved in. Once you know who your customers are, consider how you plan to retain your customers and keep them coming back for more.

Consider how you plan to market yourself to your target customer.  What forums and websites do they visit, what keywords do they type to find the information they look for.

Consider all the start up costs involved in getting your business started and if required where you think you may be able to secure the funding.

Establishing your market
You must establish that there is a market for your business concept, is there a genuine interest in your product / service.  Start-up businesses need to establish a niche or a competitive edge something that defines them from the competition.

Raising finance is particularly difficult given the current economic climate but there are several financing options available to business owners. For many companies, funds may be required from several different sources.

Bank finance by way of a loan or overdraft can ultimately be less expensive than the sale of shares or equity in your company.  However, equity investment is probably a better proposition for companies who don’t want to increase borrowing or are unable to provide the necessary security.

With equity investment there are two options “business angels” or venture capitalists. Business angels are ‘high net worth’ individuals who look for high potential, fast gowing businesses who want to raise up to $250, 000. Business angels can also add value with a wealth business advice and a rolodex of useful contacts. Venture capitalists don’t usually get involved until your dealing in figures of over $2,000,000 – they will usually expect to see a return on their investment within a three year period.

There are normally some government backed funding or small business grants that can be applied for.  The availability of these funds are continually changing so it may be worth doing some research to see if there are government funding options available to you when you start your business.

A lot of small businesses finance themselves using a mixture of credit card debt and loans from friends and family.  In my opinion these are both high-risk strategies, before using either of these options, consider why you have not been able to raise money using more traditional methods.  If knowledgeable business financers don’t think your business proposition is viable, why do you? Credit card debt is about as expensive as it gets so before opting for credit cards make sure you have your calculations correct and only use credit cards when you require very short term financing.  Accepting money from family and friends can also be very costly but from a personal point-of -view. Before you borrow money from family or friends make sure they know the terms of the loan. Always repay them when you say you’re going to or risk getting a sometime very unwelcome business partner.

Another common business error is to under finance.  If you start your business with too little funding you risk running out of cash before your venture gets a change to really take-off. 

Your website
Website development can be very costly if you don’t know where to look.  However, you can pay as little as $150 for a simple ecommerce script.  In fact OSCommerce is released under the GNU General Public License, which means it’s completely free.  There are also a multitude of website scripts and ‘off the shelf’ products that can give your website a market leading feel without spending a massive amount of your budget.  However, a little technical knowledge can go a long way when your running a internet business and if you don’t have the aptitude for technical work, my suggestion is, find someone who has and get them involved either as an employee or partner.  You can also find a wealth of knowledge on sites like Digital Point.  If your looking for something specific, something that can’t be bought ‘off the shelf’ you could consider having a site developed for you.  Take a look at getafreelancer this site has a multitude of highly skilled developers from all over the world at surprisingly reasonable prices.

Don’t forget, your website is your storefront make sure you update your website constantly.  Content is key, give your visitors a reason to keep coming back again and again.

The various marketing options open to internet businesses are covered in many other posts that can be found on this website but it’s one area where new internet start-ups often fail.  It’s not unusual for webmasters to develop their site and just expect the orders to start streaming in.  However, the reality is you could have the best website in the world but without visitors it won’t receive a single order.

There are plenty of paid traffic services but in the early cash-cautious days really try to concentrate on the numerous ways traffic can be generated for free.

Get involved in community sites such as forums, social networking sites and blogs.  These are all great ways of introducing yourself to your potential customers without parting with a penny.  You may also find that commenting on community sites with a backlink to your website will increase your search engine standings and will thus provide you with more free traffic.

The Customer experience
Make sure your site is fast and easy for customers navigate.  Make sure the order process is straight forward, as a site with a complicated sales process is likely to leak customers. Customer information must be kept safe and potential customers should be assured that your site is data secure.  Give your customers as many ways to communicate with you as possible and where possible use toll free methods so it does not cost them anything.

Don’t give up your day job
Starting any business takes time, in my opinion this is even more the case with internet businesses as traffic momentum has to be given time to build.  So don’t hand your notice in straight away, as there may not be much in the way of income in the early days. Make sure you really like the product or market that you’re trading in.  You’re going to be spending a lot of time working with it and if it gets boring it will be difficult to maintain the passion, determination, energy and enthusiasm required to get your business off the ground.  It’s also important to be realistic. Contrary to popular belief, success on the internet is not that common and while there are many new start-ups very few make any money. That said, although building a web based business is one of the hardest things you ever do, if you make a success of it, it will be one of the most rewarding.